Steal This Silo Smashing Idea

Article main image
Mar 28, 2019

Pondering how (or whether) recognition and rewards can help smash silos and encourage collaboration where you work? Michael Schrage, MIT research fellow, shared a story in this HBR blog post  from several years ago about an organization that tried a simple — but also clever and fun — program to spark value exchange within its own firewalls.

A few years back, I helped a large, very compartmentalized and extremely siloed global organization launch an internal competition. Its goal was to promote greater sharing of ideas, information, best practice and innovative processes…

The design was simple, clever and cheap: top management would recognize and reward people who demonstrated an ability to cross-functionally get real value from their colleagues and cohorts. We created two complementary yet competitive awards:

  • “Thief of the Month” — a modest prize and high-profile internal acknowledgement for teams and small groups who “stole” an idea or innovation from another unit and successfully incorporated it into their own business; and
  • “We Wuz Robbed” — a comparably modest prize and recognition for having one’s group’s best practice or process adopted by another internal group.

Schrage notes that the dueling prizes helped create an internal marketplace, prompting both demand and supply, by encouraging employees to, “not just to look for interesting ideas to ‘steal’ but to think about which of their own best practices deserved wider internal promotion.” And all this, as we’re made to understand, before intranet social media “sharing” applications had materialized in any substantive way.

The story illustrates not only how a reward plan with a playful and provocative spirit can engage people and help change their behavior, but (perhaps more importantly) reminds us that all the social media platforms and technology tools in the world might not make a difference if someone doesn’t call people to the challenge in a way that captures attention and drives action.

This article was first posted on Compensation Force.